Streets of Rage/Bare Knuckle
Back in 1989, no arcade game in America was hotter than Final Fight. As successful as Double Dragon
already was, Final Fight brought the genre's popularity to a whole other level. While everybody was
waiting for the initially SNES exclusive port of the game, Sega went ahead and released "Streets of Rage"
for Genesis to cash in on Final Fight's popularity.
It worked. Well.
What Sega needed more than anything in 1990 was a game that would get their fledgling 16-bit platform
noticed, and Streets of Rage proved to be that game. Most people had never seen a game like this for a
console before - it was bigger, louder, and more high-tech, than anything available for any 8-bit system,
and SNES hadn't been released outside of Japan yet. It really didn't matter that it didn't offer anything that
Final Fight and TMNT hadn't already done before, because back then the beat-em-up genre was still
fresh enough that it didn't need to. For a lot of people, SoR was their first experience with the Genesis, so
it could be argued to have set the stage for the console to really take off when Sonic the Hedgehog was
released the following year.
Honestly, though, as amusing as it was at the time to run through the streets smacking people in the face,
the original game doesn't exactly stand up all that well. However, its sequels are fantastic, and among the
few (if not the only) truly great beat-em-ups for a console that's lacking overall in the genre. It's definitely
the best beat-em-up series for Genesis, regardless, and still retains an intense, and well deserved, cult
following among Genesis owners and beat-em-up fans.
The most consistent element throughout the entire series is its music, all of which is composed by Yuzo
Koshiro. It's all based on late 1980's/early 1990's European techno and/or dance music. The series' music
is so popular that its composer was regularly invited to DJ it in clubs throughout the 1990's and as
recently as 2007. It's pretty amazing that Yuzo Koshiro was able to milk something like this out of the
hardware, given that audio tracks for Genesis games tend to resemble low-res clips of somebody
stepping on a beer can. Opinions about which title has the best compositions tend to vary. Both of the first
two entries have more melodic, dance beat oriented music, with the tracks in second installment generally
being the most popular overall. The music for the third game is generally not as well liked, due to it being
deliberately abrasive and a great deal noisier than anything heard in the rest of the series. However,
others find it to have the best music out of the three for that very reason. It's all brilliant regardless, and
easily the best music for the console.
As a series, Streets of Rage ("Bare Knuckle" in Japan) consists of three installments, and ports of the first
two games for Sega Master System and Game Gear. It has something of a revolving door cast over the
course of the series, with only two characters (Axel and Blaze) being constants.
A boxer/police officer. I couldn't even guess where he gets the time to be a cop AND have a boxing
career. He's only playable in the original, but he does make cameo appearances in both sequels.
Nothing more than a blatant knock-off of Cody from Final Fight. He's among the two mainstays in the
series' cast, along with Blaze Fielding.
Blaze has training in Judo, but only has a couple of her throws to show for it. She also doesn't seem to be
the least bit concerned with coming to a fight properly dressed.
Eddie "Skate" Hunter
Kid brother to Adam Hunter. His ludicrously dated design consists of rollerblades (hence his ridiculous
nickname), and a backward ball cap. He's the only character besides Axel and Blaze that's playable in
multiple entires in the series, making appearances in both SoR 2 and 3.
Max makes his lone appearance in SoR 2, where he's introduced simply as a friend of Alex. In a genre
with more than its fair share of huge overly muscled characters, this guy is a behemoth. Really, it's a
surprise that he can even get around.
Zan earned his doctorate in robotics, as evident by the fact that he's apparently turned himself into a
seven foot tall cyborg with the head of a mustachioed geriatric. Makes his lone appearance in SoR 3.
Mr. X is a crime boss who acts as the villain in all three installments of the series. While his methods vary
ever so slightly from game to game, his goal of taking over the city always remains the same.
Streets of Rage/Bare Knuckle: Ikari no Tekken (1990) Genesis/Sega Master System/Game Gear
SoR takes place in an ambiguous American city that's been overtaken by a wave of organized crime lead
by a man named Mr. X. With the police force in his pocket, the only thing left to stand up to his criminal
enterprise is three vigilante ex-cops who look like they've been yanked straight out of a 1980's Hollywood
direct-to-video martial arts action movie. As its absolutely ridiculous American name implies, much of it
takes place across a series of very hostile roads. As its Japanese name indicates, you engage in a series
of fist fights along your way. Like almost all other early Final Fight clones, your movesets are very basic.
You can throw, attack, or whack somebody who's standing behind you. Once per life you can call in what
might be the most iconic bomb in all of video game-dom - a cop who steps out of a squad car and fires a
rocket launcher, blowing up any thugs on screen. As per genre standards, once in a while you'll find
weapons lying on the ground, like bats, breakable beer bottles, or the cliqued lead pipes.
When this hit the Genesis in 1990 it was HUGE. Yet, it's just too repetitive for it to be easy to go back to
today. The characters are far too similar and their movesets are small, and there's just not enough
variation to the combat. While it isn't slow moving per se, the action doesn't move along at an acceptable
pace, either, and the game just ends up feeling too slow for its own damn good. Enemies aren't nearly
aggressive enough - forcing you to chase after them, and backing up right out of the screen when you do.
This is only compounded by lackluster attack patterns that never force you to do anything other than just
keep wailing away. You don't really do much other than face a generic fodder thug, knock him down, wait
for him to get up, knock him down again, watch him flicker out and disappear, and then repeat, for the
entire game. That might be a bit of an over-simplification, but it's games like this that are responsible for
the beat-em-up genre being dismissed by most people today as having been nothing more than what I
Given its monotony, it's easy to forget why it do so well back in the day. The game basically owed its
success to two things. First, and most significantly, is that it was the closest that you could get to a home
conversion of Final Fight at the time. In 1990, when you had to go to the arcades to play other similar
titles, it was pretty much the most badass thing ever to be able to play this kind of game in your own living
room. The second reason is that it had everything that the SNES port of Final Fight didn't. Final Fight for
SNES lacked multi-player, and only had two characters. In comparison, SoR has a two player mode and
three playable characters. It also stands up very well on a technical level, and has great music, which is a
major part of its lasting appeal.
Sega later released a port each for Sega Master System and Game Gear. They're pretty much the same
game, but with crappier controls, worse physics, and a poorly balanced difficulty level. The GG version,
strangely, omits the ability to knee people after grabbing them. It also has Adam completely removed
from the game. Whereas the SMS version has all of the moves and characters, but lacks a two player
mode. As would be expected, both versions look like crap, and lack the audio capabilities to do the music
Streets of Rage 2/Bare Knuckle II: Shitou no Chinkon Uta (1992) Genesis/Sega Master System/Game
THIS is more like it! Coming two years after the original, Streets of Rage 2 was released at a time when
the Genesis' library of beat-em-ups was beginning to look severely lacking when compared to the
arcades or SNES. A game like SoR wasn't going to turn as many heads by 1992 when there were so
many better beat-em-ups for other platforms, so Sega went and gave the franchise a complete overhaul.
They rebuilt the engine, redrew every graphic, expanded the movesets, and made a few roster changes
to up the playable cast from three to four. The plot, however, remains basically the same as the original's.
Mr. X is back again. Only this time he's not only taken over the city, he's also kidnapped Adam. So Axel
and Blaze begin moving right and pummeling thugs with lead pipes on their way to save the day. Joining
them are Adam's kid brother Skate, and Axel's friend Max.
Even if you couldn't get past the monotony of the original SoR, you'll find a lot to like about part 2. For
starters, the action moves along at a MUCH more acceptable pace, which alone leads to a vastly superior
title. As opposed to the overly similar cast of the original, each character has a vastly different feel to
them, and the movesets are more character specific. You've got several more attacks for each character,
which makes fighting seem far less repetitive. Especially important is the introduction of specials (double
tap Forward & attack), which makes it much easier to take on multiple foes at once. Instead of the fire
bomb from the original, each character has their own Final Fight-style crowd control move that's
performed at the cost of a little of your health. You can even hurl your weapons at people, and each
character has their own speed, range, and strength for weapon attacks. Enemies aren't as hesitant to
fight this time, which also greatly improves the pacing of the game. The game also introduces "Duel"
mode - a 1-on-1 fighter mode similar to the Vs. mode in Jaleco's Rushing Beat series. Honestly, it's not
nearly as cool as you'd hope - in fact, it's really just straight up boring - but it's interesting enough to be
worth trying out.
The improvements that have been made to the graphics are nothing short of amazing. The view is more
zoomed in, compared to SoR 1, making all of the characters take up nearly twice as much space as
before. There's also a significantly higher level of resolution, which does a great deal to overcome the
graphical limitations created by the small color palette of the Genesis. The actual sprite art is much, much
better designed, and the whole game looks far better than its gaudy-as-all-hell prequel. Its stage designs
are excellent, with large objects in the foreground, and several often strongly varied sections in each level
(the carnival stage is an especially good example of this). With all of its massive upgrades to both
gameplay and graphics, the final product isn't just a great beat-em-up, it's also among the most improved
sequels ever made.
The Japanese version (Bare Knuckle II) plays exactly alike, but there are a couple instances of
censorship. Mr. X is shown smoking a cigar in the Japanese release, whereas there's no such detail in
the American version. Also, when Blaze does a flying kick in both the Japanese and European versions
you can see up her skirt, but, again, not in the American release. There's also a couple name changes.
Skate's first name is Sammy in Japan, but Eddie elsewhere, and Duel mode is called "Battling" in Japan.
Like they did with the original, Sega saw SoR 2 fit to port to both Sega Master System and Game Gear.
Both ports are better than the 8-bit conversions of the original, but the difficulty is still poorly balanced, the
controls are still crap, and Max is absent from each release. In the SMS version the boss of the arena
stage has been replaced, and there's a totally original train stage, and a few original stages not in the
other versions. The color palette has also been changed in a few areas, and there's no two player mode.
In the GG release there's an original boss that looks like the thing from Predator, an annoying robot
enemy that explodes when attacked, and a couple of original levels. For whatever reason, it's also
missing one of the jumping attacks. To compensate for the lack of screen space, the names of enemies
are not displayed on screen.
Streets of Rage 3/Bare Knuckle III (1994) Genesis
SoR 3 sees Mr. X back again, this time heading RoboCy Corporation as a front for his criminal
operations. He's employing a roboticist named Dr. Dahm to develop robots to replace the city's elected
officials, as part of his grand scheme to take over the city yet again. He's also kidnapped the chief of
police, because... well, that's just what beat-em-up villains do. After our heroes are alerted to this plan by
a man named Dr. Zan, they set out to kick ass. Adam is still M.I.A., but Axel, Blaze, and Skate are back.
They're also joined by Dr. Zan himself.
For the most part, SoR 3 is very similar to part 2, down to its game engine and graphical style. Except
SoR 3 has more moves, more characters, more weapons, more techniques - more of EVERYTHING.
There are even multiple endings depending on how well you do in certain areas of the game. There are
also two hidden characters that are accessible via cheats - a boxing kangaroo (!!!) name Roo, and a
martial artist named Shiva. If you have the six button controller you can perform an the finisher to your
auto-combo by pushing Y, or do your backward attack by just pushing Z. You've also got an evasion
technique that lets you dash in either direction vertically. Each character has gained the ability to run
everywhere, which speeds things up greatly. Something else that's really cool is that there are character
specific weapon attacks. For example, performing Axel's special while he has a bat will make him reach
back and swing the bat in a huge arc. Compare this to Skate, who retains his special when he has the
bat, but gains a completely different health-draining-crowd-control-move.
The way that your crowd control moves work has been refined a bit, as well. Next to your health meter is
another vertical meter that automatically fills and refills itself. When it's completely maxed out you can
perform your crowd control move without sacrificing any health. Also, each character has two crowd
control moves this time out - generally one that's best for when you're swarmed, and another that's great
for taking on large groups (or bosses) in front of you. There's another system not present in the prequels
that lets you sort of "level up" by gaining a shitload of points, which will grant move upgrades (or "Blitz"
attacks, as they're called). However, you lose these move upgrades or any progress you've made toward
gaining them whenever you lose a life, which makes it difficult to get them at all, and it's damn near
impossible to keep them for any significant amount of time when you do.
However, not all of the changes are for the better. First of all, the difficulty level is MUCH higher than in
the second installment, and poorly balanced overall. The bosses have health meters that are WAY too
long, and enemies take off a crapload of health with their attacks. There are also two sections that are
kind of frustrating - a mine where carts (or whatever) whiz by on the rails and mow you down, and a
section where you have to avoid getting plowed by a bulldozer by destroying walls that are in your way.
That last area in particular is a major pain in the ass, as it's essentially impossible to avoid getting hit.
There are also a few changes to the presentation. The resolutions are actually lower, and the characters
have pretty ugly color palettes. The music is also much more abrasive, which leads to most people
considering it to be the worst in the series. However, I find it to be the best in the series for that same
reason. Overall, even with all of its improvements, the difficulty level is just too high, and too poorly
balanced, for SoR 3 to match up to its predecessor.
However, the Japanese version is another beast entirely. First of all, the difficulty is way lower - about the
same as SoR 2 - and much better balanced, with enemies doing less damage, and bosses taking less
time to beat. The level of damage that enemies do is identical for all difficulty settings, whereas it's
relative to the difficulty level in the American release. Combined with all of its extra moves and
techniques, these things probably make the Japanese version of SoR 3 the best game in the series.
However, not everything about it is easier. Your crowd control moves cost you WAY more health if they
are performed when the meter isn't maxed out, and your evasion moves also don't move you as far out of
Several changes were made to the presentation when it was translated into English. A few of the audio
tracks are different, like Axel saying "Grand Upper" in the Japanese version when he does his special, but
"Bare Knuckle" in the American release. Axel, Blaze, and Skate all had their color palettes changed, as
did a couple enemies. The Japanese version also has a seventh playable character named Ash that's
accessible via a cheat, and that appears in-game as a boss. Ash is also a pretty blatant caricature of gay
males, so Sega of America removed him from the English release entirely. The Japanese release also
shows an image of Axel during the intro where he punches the screen and breaks the glass, but this is
missing completely from the English release.
The original plot from the Japanese release is completely different than what made it to the English
version of the game. It begins with a place called Oak Wood City being destroyed in a nuclear explosion
(!!!) by a "Rakushin" bomb. It then follows the heroes as they search for other bombs that they have been
informed of, fend off Mr. X's thugs, and look for the recently kidnapped military officer General Petrof. Dr.
Zan later reveals that Mr. X intends to start a war with all of the bombs that he has stolen, and that
General Petrof was kidnapped because he posed a threat to this plan. Then we find out that Dr. Zan and
is a former acquaintance of General Petrof from the military, and that his real name is Dr. Gilbert, the
discoverer of Rakushin.
Legacy & Streets of Rage 4
Maybe because SoR didn't do so well, or possibly due to the nigh disappearance of the beat-em-ups
genre after the 16-bit era, or probably a bit of both, Sega never got around to releasing a fourth
installment to Streets of Rage. However, there have actually been several aborted plans to do just that.
The first was in 1996, when Sega attempted to purchase the half completed game Fighting Force from
Core Designs. When this deal fell through, Sega apparently gave up on plans for a Saturn sequel. It's
also been rumored that their 3-D beat-em-up Die Hard Arcade was originally intended to be Streets of
Rage 4, before Sega changed their minds. Then in 1999 Sega actual began development on a
Dreamcast version of Streets of Rage 4 in collaboration with Ancient. A demo version of the game was
produced, but the idea was nixed by Sega of America, because they weren't down with releasing a game
in a genre that was perceived to be obsolete.
In a very interesting statement made in 2001 about the possibility of a fourth Streets of Rage title, Yuzo
Koshiro said that "now Sega teams are independent we'll replan it and bring it to Hitmaker first. If they're
interested in making it for Xbox and make a contract with us, I want to restart the plan". He later says "I'm
thinking about a first-person mode. And needless to say, in 3D. And the game will connect online for
multi-play" and "My sister [Ayano Koshiro, Ancient art designer] designed five new characters for SoR4
already". These plans apparently went nowhere, but it's damn interesting stuff, regardless.
In more recent years, Streets of Rage has also served as the basis for a freeware game called Beats of
Rage, which takes the characters from SNK's King of Fighters and puts them into a beat-em-up modeled
after SoR 2. The engine for this game has served as the basis for assloads of fan mods. There's also a
freeware game developed by BomberGames called Streets of Rage Remake, which basically combines
everything from the entire series into the same game. It plays amazingly similar to the Genesis titles, but
has all craploads of extra content. You can take a CPU controlled teammate along with you, and even
modify their A.I. however you like. It even has volleyball and capture-the-flag mini-games, and a survival
mode that basically works like a boss rush. It's also got a few original stages, and multiple paths through
levels. Needless to say, it's well worth looking into.
Streets of Rage Online Stupidly comprehensive site dedicated to the series. Best source for SoR info in